This week, sex comes to Yale.
Sunday night marked the beginning of Sexual Health Awareness Week, an annual initiative sponsored by the Student Health Education division of the University Health Services. Throughout the week, the department will present films, panel discussions and improvisational comedy exploring the culture of dating and sex in college.
“We’re trying to raise awareness, and to educate women and men on the topic,” UHS Health Education Coordinator Sally Rinaldi said.
Monday night’s event, held in Sudler Hall, was titled “Sex Signals” and was a mixture of improvisational comedy, audience interaction and discussion. Two actors, Christian Murphy and Amber Kelly, explored the problems of the college dating scene from both male and female points of view, discussing mixed signals and double standards in short sketches that took place in bars and off-campus parties. The show made fun of many aspects of dating, such as gender stereotypes, but also dealt with more serious topics such as acquaintance rape. Murphy and Kelly tour campuses across the nation and have performed the show roughly 300 times.
“Sex Signals” is not afraid to take off the kid gloves of the stereotypical sex education class, Murphy said.
“It very adeptly combines humor with important messages in a subversive way. It’s very edgy humor, not like an after-school special. At certain times people are offended by it — it’s so frank and so blunt and so out there. But those who aren’t offended by it can really start to hear messages that they would otherwise be closed off to,” Murphy said.
The show relied heavily on audience participation. The actors frequently asked the audience for opinions, suggestions and even stage directions. After each skit, the actors talked with the audience about the issues they had brought up.
“Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is create a space in which people can candidly talk about the issues and the frustrations and the different perspectives people have about communication and dating,” Murphy said.
The audience members said they were affected by the candor and the volatility of the show.
“The transition from humor to rape definitely threw us all,” said one Saybrook freshman who would not give his name. “But I thought it was great. I heard some things that I hadn’t been exposed to before.”
“Sex Signals” differed from other Sexual Health Awareness Week events in that it was presented by professional actors rather than members of student groups or professors. The week’s other events include Tuesday’s “Secrets of Great Sex,” a presentation by Peer Health Educators, and Wednesday’s “Tough Guise,” an anti-violence video followed by a panel discussion led by members of the student group Safety Net, the Yale Women’s Center and professors.
Sexual Health Awareness Week is in its 17th year. The program began as an AIDS awareness program, but developed over the years to address sexual health in general, Rinaldi said. The event always takes place around Valentine’s Day.
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